About a week ago I received notice from the Autism Research Foundation  that I was selected for a Dr. Margaret L. Bauman Award for Excellence in Serving the Autism Community. In the notice they mentioned that I would receive the award at their annual “Current Trends in Autism Conference ” which is actually happening today in Burlington, Massachusetts.
“Excited” would have been an understatement to describe what I was feeling when I learned of the award. It is a tremendous honor, especially when I found out I was nominated under the category of “Adult Services.” When I started advocating for autism in high school, my main goal was to reach out to my peers. In college I focused on reasonable accommodations for postsecondary education, while today I’m concerned with helping young adults with autism live independently.
I believe the message of serving others needs to continue if we want our autism community to thrive in the future. I’ve written in the past about the popular image of autism being that it’s only an issue for children. We need to remain aware that serving adults with autism is just as essential. Serving others is important but when it comes to autism it all begins with understanding the diagnosis itself, then going out there to see how you can get involved. In this column, I want to discuss just a few ways I got involved in serving and how others could do the same within the community.
One of the easiest ways for people to serve is by volunteering with a local/national autism organization. Many of these volunteer opportunities come by attending a charitable event that is focused on raising funds toward a specific mission of that organization. In my work with Autism Speaks I often tell families one of these ways is to get involved with a Walk Now for Autism Speaks  event nearby. I’ve participated in our Northern Central New Jersey Walk for over six years now.
Another more extensive way of helping is by starting an organization/group to serve a need that is lacking in the community. A few years ago in my home state of New Jersey I saw a lack of adult services for those with autism. In response I started an organization call KFM Making a Difference  to focus on disability advocacy and housing. I’ve been doing this for over two years now and last April I decided to take my efforts further when I filed paperwork to establish my group as a nonprofit corporation.
Finally, one of my favorite ways of serving is helping spread positivity and encouragement amongst other young adults on the spectrum. In my work as a self-advocate, I’ve always encouraged these individuals to understand how powerful their impact can be in their own lives and the lives of others, if you can accept who you are and also accept the people around you. It’s a main reason I came out about my autism. I wanted people to know who I really am and understand that my difficulties were things I understood but didn’t see as deficits as others might. I share these types of experiences I’ve had in my life with others in the hope that we can start shaping the world with a brighter outlook on autism while also focusing on the areas for improvement that all of us have as human beings.
So regardless of whether you consider looking into one of these ways of helping our community, just know that it is important for those with or without autism to serve the world around you to the best of your abilities. Many times I see people who think of serving as a necessary burden but service should and can be beneficial to your overall development as a person. When it comes to adult services for those with autism, we welcome those who seek to accept, serve and develop. It is time to help in anyway we can and become part of a large, accepting and tolerant community.